Too much of a good thing? Exploring the impact of wealth on weight

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Obesity, like many health conditions, is more prevalent among the socioeconomically disadvantaged. In our data, very poor women are three times more likely to be obese and five times more likely to be severely obese than rich women. Despite this strong correlation, it remains unclear whether higher wealth causes lower obesity. In this paper, we use nationally representative panel data and exogenous wealth shocks (primarily inheritances and lottery wins) to shed light on this issue. Our estimates show that wealth improvements increase weight for women, but not men. This effect differs by initial wealth and weight - an average-sized wealth shock received by initially poor and obese women is estimated to increase weight by almost 10 lb. Importantly, for some females, the effects appear permanent. We also find that a change in diet is the most likely explanation for the weight gain. Overall, the results suggest that additional wealth may exacerbate rather than alleviate weight problems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1403 - 1421
Number of pages19
JournalHealth Economics
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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